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Liminality and musings on responsibilities and ethics

Photo: Dr Kara McKechnie

Part of the Invisible Diaries series:

Week 7 / Day 5


The clock ticks. I’m late. I hesitate. I have a plan for Day Five but still “I hesitate, I hesitate”. I loop back to Day Two where I spoke of the arrival of a photograph of a black and white shell by the Yiman and Gurreng Gurreng artist Anthony Walker. It reminded me of the need to examine the shadows when looking for patterns. I loop both forward and back to Day Four, where I mused on the dramaturgy of institutional self-fashioning in time of Covid-19. I look forward to Day Six, where I suspect I will discuss another aspect of institutional self-fashioning, that of screening live-capture performance. I loop back to today. My plan for Day Five was to provide visual examples of some of the patternings that can be found in the National Theatre Live program. But still, I hesitate.

I cannot find the edges. How do I enter the conundrum? There are no bells, beeps, and whistles to signal the entry point. What I cannot do, at this moment, is reconcile content with form with medium. This reconciliation seems to me, at least, to be a dramaturgical poser in and of itself. Is this the right forum to share the patternings on which, as yet, I haven’t settled on my own position? Is it both responsible and ethical to do so? If I will not include an image of Anthony’s photograph and instead supply a weblink to his work to illustrate my point on Day Two, if I will not provide any detail on the work created by the young people who featured in Day Three, for ethical reasons – copyright and protecting their creative processes, respectively – then what are my ethical responsibilities to the Dramaturgs' Network?

These questions speak to larger dramaturgical projects. It is all but axiomatic that dramaturgy is an inherently interrogative modality. The very simple question of the form of the diary for this week speaks to larger dramaturgical concerns. Yesterday, I spoke of institutional dramaturgies being a form of self-fashioning. These diaries are a conceit (in the best sense of the word) of self-fashioning for the Dramaturgs’ Network in that they too, as a paratext, “articulate its identity” (Steichen) with a view to educating a wider audience. The macro of institutional self-fashioning is, however, mirrored at the level of micro and personal self-fashioning. Do I normally spend a week reflecting on both my own practice and on the multitude of conceptual spaces that dramaturgy occupies? No. Do I normally articulate my thinking in first-person to the occupants of the interwebs at large? No. Using the diary format is a conceit. It is a welcome conceit, but it is a conceit, nonetheless. It is a form of personal self-fashioning in the service of the industry. The days of the dramaturg being viewed as a sort of Jiminy Cricket of the theatrical world are thankfully long gone. There are, however, useful echoes of that role that permeate dramaturgical thinking, and, taking a stand, I think that is a good thing.

I stay with Chihuly but I decide to change my Zoom background.

Photo: A sculpture by Dale Chihuly


Steichen, James. “The Metropolitan Opera Goes Public: Peter Gelb and the Institutional Dramaturgy of the Met: Live in HD.(Essay).” Music and the Moving Image, vol. 2, no. 2, 2009, pp. Music and the Moving Image, Summer, 2009, Vol.2(2).


Bernadette Cochrane is dramaturg and theatre academic at the University of Queensland. She focuses on institutional dramaturgies and cultural production. Bernadette writes extensively on the dramaturgies of the screening and streaming of live performances.

She is a board member of Migrant Dramaturgies Network, developed in partnership with New Tides Platform (UK) and the Centre for Theatre Research at the University of Lisbon, Portugal.


Headshot photograph by Chris Osbourne.

Other photography courtesy of the author.


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